IT'S a case of up then down for Kenya's second largest population of elephants. After a promising growth spurt, the elephants are now dying faster than they are being born. The decline is being blamed on illegal poaching, driven by Asia's demand for ivory.
The Kenya Wildlife Service recently conducted a census of the Samburu/Laikipia population, the country's second largest. It found that the population lost over 1000 elephants in just four years, and now stands at 6361. Previous censuses in 1992, 1998, 2002 and 2008 had revealed a growing population, which appears to have peaked at 7415 in 2008.
Poaching is suspected. A July report by three conservation groups found that it has been on the rise across Africa since 2006. Poaching is also spreading eastwards from central Africa into countries like Kenya, says Richard Thomas of TRAFFIC in Cambridge, UK, one of the three groups that drafted the report. The July report found that more than half of all elephants found dead in Africa in 2011 had been illegally killed.
The rise in poaching appears to be driven by increasing affluence in China and Thailand, where ivory is often used to make religious sculptures and other decorations.
Organised criminal gangs have capitalised on this increased demand. "If it's worth someone's while to smuggle the ivory, they'll take the risk," Thomas says. There is evidence that gangs are moving into Kenya to hunt elephants.
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